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Amari Gainer’s position shift has been a year in the making

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“His talent and the versatility that he brings just in his overall understanding has been impressive.”

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 06 Florida State Spring Game Photo by Logan Stanford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Redshirt sophomore Amari Gainer has been through the gauntlet during his time at Florida State. Having signed with the Seminoles as part of the 2018 signing class, Gainer redshirted that season, earning his first start against NC State in 2019. He’s seen two different coaching staffs, three different defenses and despite that, he’s been a player who has flashed consistently while not truly finding his spot on the field — the fact that he led the team in tackles in 2020 and still has room to grow is a testament to the potential he possesses.

Head coach Mike Norvell and defensive coordinator Adam Fuller identified Gainer’s talent in their first days of fall camp in 2020, their first real-time with the Tallahassee native after missing out on spring camp.

While Gainer played most of last year at the STUD position, plans were set in motion back in August of last year for his long term development.

“We are going to start Amari as a Stud. I think that fits him,” Fuller said at the time. “One of the best things Amari does, he absolutely plays with great, constant effort. He can flat-out run. He has got a really good mindset about him.

“I don’t think Amari has tapped his potential. We are trying to develop him as a box linebacker too...I think short-term you are going to play him at STUD and let him play like that position needs to play from an outside edge-setter, a guy that can match up athletically on the perimeter with the right people, but a physical mismatch for any wideouts when it comes to just on the perimeter blocking.”

This season, Gainer will move inside to the WILL position, as part of FSU’s move to a more specialized version of the nickel defense.

Here’s a little bit more detail on the switch from our spring linebacker preview:

The 2021 spring is going to be a bit of a transition as FSU is going to run more nickel looks defensively. Some are dubbing this a move to the 4-2-5 but FSU was already playing quite a bit of that. Instead, there will be less “big nickel” as defensive coordinator Adam Fuller has dubbed it. Expect to see just two LB’s on the field this spring and fall. Reads and fits should stay mostly the same for the two interior LB’s.

“[Moving Gainer over] was something we wanted to do throughout the season last year and that kind of showed up towards the end of the year — I think that’s one of Amari’s great strengths, the versatility that he has,” Norvell said yesterday during media availability. “He’s got to be a guy that can impact in all different aspects. We’re starting off this spring taking a good look at him being inside because that was something he didn’t do as much last year.

“But you’ll see him in all spots. His talent and the versatility that he brings just in his overall understanding has been impressive.”

To prep for the switch, Gainer has been working towards improving his physicality by solidifying his weight, which has been inching closer towards consistently being 235 year after year, a process he says is complete.

”I’m kinda just going through it, still getting used to my body weight,” he said Tuesday. “I feel good at 235. It’s just natural weight that I’ve accumulated from good nutrition and good weights.”

“WILL is a little different [than STUD]. It’s a little more inside-the-box responsibilities, getting used to that and running to the ball, the pace of the ball, knowing which gap I have, playing off of that, and also getting to the ball.”

The switch should help emphasize Gainer’s pass rush potential, something that was prominent during his first season at Florida State, logging seven tackles for loss along with 3.5 sacks and five quarterback hurries. Those numbers dipped slightly last year as FSU struggled as a whole on the defensive front, but in his new role, Gainer has the opportunity to not just meet, but exceed his redshirt freshman numbers.

“It’s just learning a new language, but I’m excited to get to learn it.”